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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Songs Of Praise – Diane Louise Jordan

Since joining Songs of Praise, Diane Louise Jordan has become one of its most popular presenters.

She has a degree in Theatre Arts and spent six years on the road touring with theatre companies and appearing in plays. She first made her name in television in her six years as a presenter on the children's programme Blue Peter. In her spare time, Diane works tirelessly for charity. She is the only TV celebrity invited to sit on the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Committee.

What has been your most memorable experience whilst presenting Songs Of Praise?

Without doubt my first Songs Of Praise was literally like a baptism of fire. It was the most surreal experience and I've never experienced anything quite like it since!

It started at Luton airport. Although I'd never been to this airport before I remember thinking the departure lounge seemed particularly busy. It wasn't long before I realised the majority of people jammed cheek by jowl were joining me and the Songs Of Praise team on a charter flight exclusively destined to Lourdes for a special religious pilgrimage.

Once on board I was struck by a palpable sense of expectation. Lourdes is renowned as a place of healing and miracles, and my fellow passengers seemed united in common purpose and hope.

When I accepted this job I thought it was going to be much the same as any other filming gig, nothing too out of the ordinary. I certainly wasn't prepared for this. And I certainly wasn't prepared for my first impression of Lourdes, which seemed to be an array of shops selling seaside paraphernalia, including kiss-me quick hats mingled with the profoundly spiritual.

I was new to the programme – I didn't even know the crew and director (Di Reid, who's now a good friend) – and I'd never heard about Lourdes, so was quite unprepared, and concerned about the level of hope for the miraculous.

But as the days progressed the seaside paraphernalia and general quirkiness of Lourdes became less of an issue for me. Instead, I was seduced by the unquestionable spiritual essence that just seem to hang in the air. Some people were healed while they were there, but what really impressed me was the warmth, the gentleness, the lovingness that underpinned everything – it just felt really good to be alive.

This was more than a normal filming experience and I think it affected everybody, including our camera crew who are not easily influenced. The Songs Of Praise team assured me this was an unusual experience for them too, and just as special.

A few days later at the end of our trip, I confess, despite being someone who loves her own bed, I felt a pang of disappointment about leaving Lourdes. It was as if, in the most bizarre place, we had been given a taste of heaven. When the show transmitted sometime later that joy, exuberance and warmth obviously shone through judging by the viewing figures and many complimentary audience letters and emails.

Is there a particular viewer's story that has stayed with you or inspired you over the years?

That's a difficult question to answer as on a regular basis I truly come away from a recording thinking, wow what an incredibly profound story. However, there was a recent story about unimaginable forgiveness that had the entire film crew in tears. It was the story of a family whose innocent son had been murdered by a young teenager. The victim's parents were understandably distraught at the loss of their son. Being a mother myself I know how precious our children are, and sadly, as my own sister died at a young age I have also witnessed first hand the excruciating grief a mother and father feel for the loss of their child. How much more complicated that grief must be when your child is murdered – off the Richter scale in terms of comprehension.

So you can probably imagine how surprised the crew and I were when the beautiful mother we were interviewing, right in the midst of her gut wrenching pain, expressed compassion for the perpetrator. She said she'd often thought about the young murderer, now in prison. What motivated him into such action, and what he needed in order to live a better life. She'd heard he'd come from a fractured home, with virtually no maternal input. So she said that when he was released from prison, if he wanted it, she would love to be a mother figure to him, because she felt that perhaps his fatal anti-social behavior was triggered by not fully knowing the security, the warmth and the protection of healthy mothering.

The crew and I couldn't believe what we were hearing, it was mind blowing to think her faith was strong enough and made such sense she was able to forgive to that extent. You walk away from interviews like this overwhelmingly humbled. The extent of people's goodness knows no bounds.

It's at moments like this I feel particularly proud to be part of Songs Of Praise. Even though we're often told bad news sells, week in week out Songs Of Praise celebrates the very best of people, even in the darkest of times, giving us all hope that there is a better way.

What is your favourite hymn/piece of music?

I love singing hymns – I'm a bit of a geek like that... so the answer could be "all of them!" But ultimately it has to be How Great Thou Art.

Which celebratory have you enjoyed talking on Songs Of Praise and why?

I loved it when Prince Charles came to All Saints church in Peckham, South London. Peckham has had such a bad press that a lot of the good stuff going on often gets overlooked. That can't be great for morale. But Songs Of Praise and His Royal Highness changed all that. Having a Royal seal of approval gave the locals a real boost... and having that praise broadcast on national television must have been an added bonus.

Why do you think Songs Of Praise is still so well loved 50 years after it was first broadcast?

Like a good quality wine Songs Of Praise gently improves with age. I love it when people express their affection for the show by saying what they admire most is how the programme hasn't changed! Well if we compare today's SOP with the very first broadcast it's actually changed tremendously, but it's adjusted and developed in such a way to satisfy the loyalty and tastes of current audiences whilst at the same time enticing new ones. A tricky thing to do but when done right I believe it enhances enduring appeal. And that's what I think is the secret of Songs Of Praise's success.

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